It was late. LATE at night (at least in Azerothian time) when Janderius made an appearance. Only another hour or two before sunrise would become a factor in Westfall.
The telltale shift of potent arcane energy was accompanied by the dull humming sounds and flash of light that went with it. The spherical doorway opened up in the courtyard of Dawnskeep, before the tired and haggard looking mage stepped through it. His elaborate battle regalia was missing, replaced by a practical looking tunic and waistcoat. His sheathed longsword was still present though. Stubble was prominent on his neck, and his hair was slightly disheveled.
The mage quietly made his way through the crumbling structure, deeper into the cellar that housed the holding cell. His nostrils flared as he approached.
The redshirt who had been assigned that particular shift of guard duty gave Jander a nod, and Jander made no attempts to dismiss him. The witness would remain in full view of the exchange that was soon to take place.
After rounding the corner, Jander approached the bars of the cell for the first time since Theodora’s capture.
Theo had been sleeping, but woke at the sound of a magical teleport opening.
She’s on the floor of the cell, on a pallet bed, kept there by her ruined arm in a sling. Theo is wearing loose linens, a shirt too big for her (likely to treat her arm easier) and simple pants, with most of her exposed skin swathed in bandages. The left side of her head has been shaved, presumably to help treat the wreck of her face, now also covered in more bandages instead of seeping black ichor. A sunken hollow marks her eye socket there under the gauze. What’s left of the hair is cleaned and cut short, no more filthy mats or tangles.
The cell is bare, except for a lot of crumpled paper balls at one end, presumably failed drafts of her notes. There’s also a small stack of papers by her head… with the picture he left there sitting on top of them. A water glass with a straw has been shoved between her arm and side to hold it without her having to use her arm too much; it’s half drained.
The head turns. Her “blind” side faces the cell bars, so she has to do that to see Jander approach.
When he did, she froze. The lone red eye widened a little in recognition and surprise… and resignation.
Well, I suppose if he turns me into a pig again, or kills me, I will have deserved that. I… owe him, and the Marshall, an apology as much as Nemalu…
Wait. He looks- is that blood? Did they-?!
“…Reed,” she said, a little hesitant, in way of greeting. Her voice was still hoarse, but stronger than it had been. She doesn’t do much more moving than turn her head, however.
Jander set his jaw over the revelation that she even knew what his last name was.
He stood there for a long pause, before finding the nearby wall and leaning back against it. Much like with Nemalu, the wounded animal he was presented with was far less satisfying an outcome than what he’d expected.
His arms folded and he lifted his chin, studying her in silence for a moment.
“I assume one of our bleeding hearts must have stopped by to give you the news.”
“…No. I have heard nothing yet.” She hesitated, but couldn’t not ask, “…Is he-?”
There is… faint, fledgling hope in her voice.
“He was ready for us.” The mage answered coldly.
Another pause hung in the air as he studied her.
“I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that no one came to tell you. At this point there might not even be any of your sympathizers left.”
The hope cracked, briefly, into… horror, and grief, as the red eye closed in resignation.
It wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough. Stupid, brave, idiot fucking mortals. Foolish Vindicator. I did not give you my permission to die!! And I helped. They went to their deaths and I helped…. More blood on my hands. More names. And now, all is likely lost, in Revendreth and the Shadowlands.
“….Renethal?” She made herself ask, keeping her voice as neutral as she could, and not succeeding very much. There’s a crack in the word that betrays her. If Renethal survived, perhaps…
“No other Venthyr arrived to support us. So that one could be anywhere by now.” His postured remained stationary as he studied the captive’s grief, undeterred.
“The details in your little guidebook left out mention of all the black winged maw beings within the castle. We walked right into an ambush on a scope far beyond what we expected.”
“Black winged-… Mawsworn,” she said, quietly. Theo swallowed. Despair rose in her throat, knotting it.
Why didn’t Renethal support them? The Vindicator talked about the assault- what happened? Is he dead as well? If Mawsworn are there… it’s too late. Nadana…
The bottom dropped out of her world, and Theo lost the battle for her emotions. She turned away from him, so he wouldn’t see her cry, though it was hard to hide the broken look on her face as she did.
I suppose I won’t need to worry about my penance, now, or my Judgement. There’s far worse coming, for all of us… but especially for me.
“…I see,” she said, hollowly, once she was sure she could speak and not sound entirely like she was fixing to start sobbing. “Take your fellow mortals and run. They know of this place, and will find you here.”
Not that it will matter in the end.
“That was the plan.” He added darkly, channeling the base, cruel impulses he’d kept in check for so many years.
“Your beloved Vindicator was the first to fall. We might have soldiered on despite the casuality, but he was not the last.”
His nostrils flared as he looked upon the sobbing figure, unwilling to drop the act. “But when our leader, the Justicar, met her end, I had to call for the retreat. There were barely any of us left, and I had a responsibility to evacuate them safely.”
Another pause hung heavily in the air.
“What do you think happens to their souls now? Where have they been sent?”
The memory of blue eyes and a smirk (He pushed his hands against the floor and rose. “I find danger worth flirting with,” he answered with a proud smile.) twisted into a scream of agony. The Justicar, her calm face and steady hands that stitched her flesh (Folding the towel and setting it aside, she buckles her plate gauntlets into place as she gives her simple reply: “You are welcome.”) with those hands crushed under the merciless hammers of the Jailors lackeys.
Staring at the ceiling, she couldn’t even dispute the mocking beloved Vindicator comment, as absurd as that was. What did it matter?
“…You need to leave,” she said, finally, her voice dull. “Every second you delay is an advantage to them.”
“This was never our fight. We were dragged into this conflict against our will, and look at what has become of us.”
He pushed himself off from the wall, keeping his fists clenched. “All of our trials, adventures, triumphs, only to fall in a smear of anima on cracked stone floors, farther from home than ever thought possible.”
Shadows veiled over his eyes as he continued peering into the cell. “I wish I had fallen with them, truth be told. But instead, I’m still here, and so are you.”
Another pause filled with debilitating silence occupied the following seconds. “At least until the acting commander makes a decision on what to do with you. More than likely you’ll be brought with us once we’ve finished gathering what we have left. Then a swift tribunal awaits, if you’re lucky.”
“Very well.” It’s… distant, and dull, cracking in the middle. A hoarse voice just above a whisper. Unseen from that side, though it may or may not be guessed, tears streamed down her face.
It’s… hopeless. As far as she can fall from the proud creature of nightmare in the forest that he met before. She had more life in her when they found her in the Maw than she does at this moment.
And with that, Jander simply turned and left.
Only to walk back in again a few seconds later.
Making his way back to the edge of the cell, he tossed a ripped piece of canvas between the bars, landing on the floor beside her feet. It was the very recognizable image of Denathrius’s oil painted face, and only the face. It looked like the rough dagger cuts had traced along the outlines of the Sire’s head.
“Sin and cinders, that was no fun at all.” Annoyed exasperation filled his voice, but there was a degree of familiar humor and warmth that had returned to it. “You can quit your cryin. Everyone’s fine. Even your biggest fan.”
She recoils so hard from the thrown object, startled out of the depths of her despair, that she yanks her arm and yelps. Theo half curls into a fetal position like she’s expecting a blow, from both the pain and the instinct, as much as she can with her arm like it is, and she doesn’t seem to register the words at first.
Theo uncurls, slowly, hesitantly, when it sinks in.
Wait. Wait. What? Wait- what? He…
….Lied? Or- is this another trick? Am- am I- no, no, I’m not back in the Maw -yet- because I saw her, I saw her use the Light, I’m not there. I’m NOT. I am not in the Maw. I am not in the Maw. I am not there. He… was lying. He was lying. He was lying to hurt me.
The head turns to look at him, and yes, she has clearly been crying. Her good arm reaches shakily for the canvas. There’s an expression on her face that’s still sort of- stunned and a little cracked, not quite disbelieving but not able to bring herself to believe it either.
She unfurls it and stares wordlessly at the portrait she knew as well as she knew her own face, she’d seen it so many times.
“I don’t know if he’s actually dead or not.” He paused to idly scratch the side of his beard. “There was some bullshit with him getting trapped in his sword or something. But all his lieutenants certainly are.”
The mage folded his arms again and continued to peer down at her. “Don’t be too pleased with yourself over those shitty little notes of yours though. This victory came as a result of our bravery and our strength. You don’t get to claim a supporting role in this tale.”
He glanced around for a moment, noting the slack jawed redshirt who still didn’t know how to react to the conversation.
“I’m sure the others will be along for your ticker tape parade soon enough.” He then turned amd faced the exit, the scabbard of his blade swinging idly at his hip with the movement. “Make sure you pull yourself together sooner rather than later, sinner. There’s no fun in getting revenge on some one so pitiful.”
…They did it. They actually did it.
Theo released a long, slow, shaky breath, trying to pick up the pieces of her emotional shambles and only succeeding a little. It almost didn’t seem real, especially after the endless abyss of hopelessness that engulfed her only moments before.
He turned to go and spoke as he did. Theo almost laughed, but there was little enough of that in the jagged, brittle, choking noise she made that it really wasn’t one.
Well played, Reed. Well played indeed. You would make a outstanding venthyr of the Court. I’m not sure Nadana herself could have hurt me more or broken my hope better if she was so inclined. I suppose it’s not surprising he wants to see me suffer before he kills me. …A small tactical error, though, I suppose. Whatever he does to me next can’t be worse than that.
“… I will do my best, Mr. Reed,” she said finally. It’s not sarcastic, or despondent, or anything in particular, just a strangely respectful, almost calm, neutral acknowledgment.
At the repeated mention of his last name, Jander just spared one more glance over his shoulder and made no attempt to suppress his sound of disgust. “Eugh.”
Then without anything else to add, he made his way out for real.